What is Tai Chi? What is Qi Gong?

Tai Chi, also called Tai Chi Chuan, originated in China as a martial arts. Tai Chi Chuan means Supreme Ultimate Boxing and is a slow motion meditative exercise.  It is often referred to as “meditation in motion”or “medication in motion” and helps integrate body, mind and breath into one. It is a series of controlled, slow, movements which integrates the mind and the breath.

Qi Gong pronounced (chee-gong) also originated in China and means practice (gong) or cultivation of vital energy (qi).  It is a type of mind-body medicine that combines movement, meditation and regulation of breathing.  It  enhances the flow of energy in your body.

What are the benefits of mind/body exercises?

  • helps reduce stress by calming and focusing the mind
  • helps reduce anxiety and depression
  • improves balance, flexibility &  muscle tone
  • lowers blood pressure
  • relieves chronic pain
  • improves feeling of well-being
  • improves sleep
  • enhances immune function

Because both of these practices are very similar I have combined them in this post. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine offers an introductory video on both of them.

If you are interested in experimenting with this type of exercise, try it here for free.  The videos are less than 15 minutes. Click HERE

 

 

References

NCCAM. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Tai Chi & Qi Gong for Health and Well Being. Accessed on October 4, 2011.

The Health Benefits of Tai Chi. Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Medical School. Accessed on October 4, 2011.


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Running 101

Two girls running It’s no secret I love running.  I came up with the name for my website on one of my runs in Central Park, in New York City.  Running burns more calories than many other activities, it’s great for your heart, good for your bones and all you need is a good pair of running shoes.

Besides the physical benefits, running also provides valuable mental benefits.  For morning runners, it gives you time to plan the day ahead.  Evening runners, have time for reflection and processing of the day accomplished.  Running helps relieve stress, lifts your mood and gives you confidence to help tackle your goals and ambitions.

I hope you’ll enjoy your runs as much as I do.  Here are some tips to help get you started:

1.  Get a good pair of running shoes.
I recommend you go to a sports or specialty running store and be fitted for the right shoe.  They can determine if you need a stability (normal), motion control (flat feet), or a neutral- cushioned shoe (high-arched).  Running shoes should be about ½ size bigger than your normal size shoe, to allow your toes some room.  If you normally wear an 8 get an 8 1/2, otherwise you’ll end up with black toenails, no toenails and/or  blisters, I can vouch for that.

You can visit the American Podiatric Medical Association website for more information and a list of approved running shoes.

2.  Warm up and cool down.
Your warm-up and cool down can be 5-8 minutes of walking or slow jogging.  Leave the stretches for after your workout when your muscles are warm enough to be stretched.

3.  Start slow
As motivated as you may be right now, it pays to start your running program slowly and safely;  this will prevent injuries and burn out.  Run 3 days a week, every other day to give your legs a rest.  This helps prevent injuries and allows your leg muscles to rebuild themselves.

4. No music.  When you first start running, I recommend not listening to music.  The music may help motivate you but it prevents you from really paying attention to your breath and foot strike.  Your breathing should be regular and your foot should hit the ground quietly.

5. Form.

  • Look ahead and forward instead of to the ground.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and down instead of hunched by your ears.  Check yourself throughout your run, shake out your arms to help relax your upper body.
  • Bend your elbows 90 degrees, keep your hands unclenched with your fingers lightly touching your palms.
  • Swing your arms forward and back instead of across your body.
  • Run tall by keeping your upper body naturally straight.  When you feel yourself slouch, take a deep breath, this will help straighten your upper body.
  • Take fast light steps and try to glide over the ground instead of bouncing.

6. Keep a training log.  Studies show that people exercise more when they log their progress.  Got to my post Free Apps to Track your Weight and Fitness Goals for options.

Some final words, you may not like running in the beginning.   And that’s understandable, your breathing may be difficult, your body may be sore, and it may just be difficult to get into a rhythm.  But don’t despair.  Give it some time, your body needs to get used to the activity.  The more you run, the easier it will get and the more you will enjoy it!

 

 

 


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Set of StairsYou’ve probably heard it more than once, “for better health, exercise!”  But who has the time?   You wish you could fit in the recommended 30 minutes or even one hour of exercise a day, but between family and work there isn’t enough time in the day.  It turns out you are not alone.  According to the CDC, 40% of Americans don’t exercise at all and only 11% of Americans are currently exercising at the minimum recommendation.

What can you do to be more active? Think small.  Instead of focusing on the 30 minutes to one hour of exercise a day, think smaller, shorter bouts of exercise.  Studies have found that two-fifteen minute sessions of exercise or even three-ten minute sessions of exercise a day have similar health benefits to working out one continuous 30 minute session.

In addition, Dr. James Levine, an obesity researcher of the Mayo Clinic, has been studying the effects of non-exercise type of activities.  Non-exercise activities are any type of activities that are not planned exercise, such as pacing while talking on the phone, standing instead of walking and so on.   He discovered that just by increasing your movements throughout the day, you burn a significant amount of calories when tallied up.

How can you move more throughout the day?

 

10 Tips to Help You Get Out of Your Chair:

1. Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier three days a week, such as Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and take a 10-15 minute brisk walk before you start your day.

2. Park your car furthest away from the entrance of your job, the supermarket, post office, or movie theater.

3. Anytime you talk on the phone, stand up and pace the duration of the call.

4. Plan a 10-15 minute brisk walk during your lunch break.

5. Always take the stairs instead of the elevator.

6. If you sit at a desk or computer all day, get up at least every half hour and stretch.

7. If you take public transit, get off the bus or subway one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.

8. If you take your child to sports practice, instead of sitting on the side lines, take a walk around the field.

9. Schedule a 10-15 minute walk right after work, either at your job or in your neighborhood-before you start dinner or start running errands.

10. Take a short walk after dinner with your family or friends.

 

 

 

 

 

References

References: Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Long versus Short bouts of Exercise on fitness and Weight Loss in Overweight Females. Schmidt et al. 2001. Accessed on July 26, 2011. http://www.jacn.org/content/20/5/494.full

Grady, Denise. May 25, 2005. New Weight-Loss Focus: The Lean and the Restless. New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/24/health/nutrition/24wigg.html Accessed on July 29, 2011.

 


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Woman doing bicep curls

My 70 year old mom does not fear weights. Doesn't she look good? I'm so proud of her!

I’ve worked out at a many different gyms and although the equipment and environment may change, one fact remains the same:  women  shy away from the weight room.

Many women are still afraid of gaining huge muscles like men do.   This fear is partly unjustified. The reality is, most women don’t have the amount of testosterone necessary to build huge muscles. But there are some women who are genetically predisposed to building muscle quickly and easily.  If you fall within this group, simply choose weights that are lighter and add more repetitions.  This way you are still gaining the benefits of strength training without bulking up.

Many women are also intimidated by the variety of weight machines and fear looking foolish. The reality is, many people in the weight room don’t know how to use the machines correctly which often results in muscle strains and/or injury.

Strength training is important for women of all ages and should be part of everyone’s exercise routine.    It brings added benefits which you cannot get from aerobic activities.

Here are 10 reasons of why you should add strength training to your repertoire:

10 Benefits of Strength Training:

1. Increases muscle strength.

2. Increases muscle mass and prevents sarcopenia in the elderly. Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle mass due to aging.

3. Boosts metabolism.

4. Improves muscle tone and definition and reduces body fat.

5. Strengthens bones and helps prevent osteoporosis.

6. Facilitates everyday tasks.

7. Improves heart function and reduces risk of heart disease.

8. Controls blood sugar.

9. Helps relieve arthritis pain.

10. Improves mood and builds confidence.

The CDC has determined in its 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, that adults should add 2 or more days of strength training activities a week.

Exercises should include all major muscle groups, such as the legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms and be of moderate to high intensity. Strength training is especially important for Adults in their late 30’s or early 40s, when a quarter pound of muscle mass is lost every year and replaced with body fat;  strength training can help preserve muscle and help build muscle mass.

If you are unsure of how to use the machines in the weight room, ask the gym staff that you want to take a tour, gyms  usually have complimentary sessions to avoid injuries.  Another option would be to hire a personal trainer.  Personal trainers can design a workout for your abilities and exercise goals. If you prefer to work out at home, you can purchase some inexpensive weights or exercise bands to improve your strength.  Whatever you chose to do, start including some strength-training into your workout routine.

References

References: Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Why strength training? http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/growingstronger/why/index.html Accessed June 17, 2011.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity for Everyone. How much physical activity do you need? http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter4.aspx Accessed June 17, 2011.


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Walking 101

Woman walkingWalking is one of the easiest ways to get in shape, burn calories and improve your health.  Because walking can be done whenever and wherever,  it is also one of the most practical types of exercises to maintain for the long-term.

The National Weight Control Registry, a registry which tracks the habits of over 5000 people who have successfully lost and maintained their weight loss for more than a year, has found that most people exercise about one hour a day and most of them walk as a form of exercise.  So, if weight loss and or weight maintenance is your goal, gradually increasing your walking time to 60 minutes a day is a good long-term goal for you.

Besides helping with weight loss and weight maintenance, walking has numerous other benefits.  Walking is good for your heart, strengthens your bones, helps prevent chronic diseases, improves sleep, reduces depression and helps your brain function better.

 

Getting started:

1.  Find out what your “baseline” is.   Baseline is the length of time you have been walking or can walk without discomfort.    Let’s say you walk 5 minutes a day.  Five minutes is about 500 steps or 1/4 mile, that’s your baseline.

2.  Determine a SMART goal: It should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound.

Specific:  “I will walk 3 times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday before work.”

Measurable: “I will walk for 10 minutes.”

Attainable or doable: “I have walked for 10 minutes before, I know I can do it again.”

Relevant:  “I want to be able to walk with my children and/or husband at the park without feeling tired and winded. “

Time bound:  “I want to be able to walk three miles for the charity walk which is at the end of the month.”

An example of a good goal would be:  “I will walk 10 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before work.” A bad goal would be “I will try to walk more.”

3.  Each week increase your workout by about 10%-20%,  if you have a pedometer add 500-1000 steps a day, keep adding either time, distance or steps until you have reached your goal.

 

Proper Form and Workout Guidelines

  • Warm-up. Always use the first few minutes as a warm up by walking at an easier/slower pace.  Once your body is warmed up, increase your speed to a brisk, purposeful pace.
  • Form.
    • Keep your head up, shoulders relaxed, abs tight and eyes focused about 10 feet ahead.
    • Bend your arms about 90 degrees and swing arms front to back. Elbows shouldn’t swing higher than your sternum. Swinging your arms this way helps you walk more briskly as well as prevents your hands from swelling up by accumulating too much fluid.
    • Foot position. Land on your heel, then roll through the step and push off with your toes.
    • Take natural and comfortable strides; avoid overstriding as this may cause injury. If you want to walk faster take shorter and quicker steps.
  • Intensity. Use the “Talk Test” to moderate your intensity.  You should still be able to carry a conversation when you walk.   If you are breathless and can’t talk you are walking too fast.  On a scale from 0-10 with 0 being at rest and 10 being maximal effort, you should be between a 5 and 6.  You can talk but not sing.
  • Stretching. Use the last few minutes to stretch and hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

1. The Walking Site. Beginning a Fitness Walking Program. http://www.thewalkingsite.com/thr.html. Accessed on May 15, 2011.

2. Daily Step Goal of 10,000 Steps: A literature review. Clinical Invest Med. 2007, 30(3): 146-151

3. Public Health Agency of Canada/Health Canada. Canada’s Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living. Cat. No. H39-429/1998-1E. Ottawa: Health Canada, 1998. (Last Updated 2003-10-08.) http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/pa-ap/07paap-eng.php. Accessed on May 15, 2011

4. City of Ottawa. Step Up and Be Counted: Let’s Get Walking with a Pedometer. Ottawa: City of Ottawa, 2004.

 

 


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